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12/10/01: This a bit of a departure of the norm for InfoFax but the following
op-ed by the New York Times' Tom Friedman encapsulates the very notion of "community"
during these uncertain times. Enjoy.
Ask Not What . . .
by Thomas L. Friedman
News anchor Tom Brokaw tells the story of meeting a young New York City fireman
a week after Sept. 11. The fireman had just participated in a memorial service for
some of his fallen colleagues and the two of them talked about the tragedy. "As
I said goodbye," Mr. Brokaw recalled, "he grabbed my arm and his expression
took on a tone of utter determination as he said, `Mr. Brokaw, watch my generation
now, just watch us.' " As the author of the acclaimed "The Greatest Generation,"
the story of the World War II cohort that saved America from Nazism, Mr. Brokaw
told me he knew just what the man was saying: " `This is our turn to be a greatest
There is a lot of truth to that. I have nothing but respect for the way President
Bush has conducted this war. But this moment cannot just be about moving troops
and tracking terrorists. There is a deep hunger in America post-Sept. 11 in many
people who feel this is their war in their backyard and they would like to be summoned
by the president to do something more than go shopping. If you just look at the
amount of money spontaneously donated to victims' families, it's clear that there
is a deep reservoir of energy out there that could be channeled to become a real
force for American renewal and transformation - and it's not being done. One senses
that President Bush is intent on stapling his narrow, hard-right Sept. 10 agenda
onto the Sept. 12 world, and that is his and our loss.
Imagine if tomorrow President Bush asked all Americans to turn down their home thermostats
to 65 degrees so America would not be so much of a hostage to Middle East oil? Trust
me, every American would turn down the thermostat to 65 degrees. Liberating us from
the grip of OPEC would be our Victory Garden.
Imagine if the president announced a Manhattan Project to make us energy independent
in a decade, on the basis of domestic oil, improved mileage standards and renewable
resources, so we Americans, who are 5 percent of the world's population, don't continue
hogging 25 percent of the world's energy?
Imagine if the president called on every young person to consider enlisting in some
form of service - the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, Peace Corps,
Teach For America, AmeriCorps, the F.B.I., the C.I.A.? People would enlist in droves.
Imagine if the president called on every corporate chieftain to take a 10 percent
pay cut, starting with himself, so fewer employees would have to be laid off? Plenty
would do it.
I don't toss these ideas out for some patriotic high. There is a critical strategic
point here: If we are going to be stomping around the world wiping out terrorist
cells from Kabul to Manila, we'd better make sure that we are the best country,
and the best global citizens, we can be. Otherwise, we are going to lose the rest
of the world.
That means not just putting a fist in the face of the world's bad guys, but also
offering a hand up for the good guys. That means doubling our foreign aid, intensifying
our democracy promotion programs, increasing our contributions to world development
banks (which do microlending to poor women) and lowering our trade barriers for
textile and farm imports from the poorest countries. Imagine if the president called
on every U.S. school to raise money to buy solar-powered light bulbs for every village
in Africa that didn't have electricity so African kids could read at night? And
let every one of those light bulbs carry an America flag decal on it, so when those
kids grew up they would remember who lit up their nights?
The world's perception of us and our values matters even more now, and it is not
going to be changed by an ad campaign, or by just winning in Afghanistan, as important
as that is. It will be changed only by what we do - at home and abroad. This war
can't end with only downtown Kabul on the mend, and not downtown Washington, Chicago
and Los Angeles. Remember: the victims on Sept. 11 were a cross section of America
- black, white, Hispanic, rich, poor and middle class - and that same cross section
has to share in the healing. If we've learned anything from Sept. 11, it is that
if you don't visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you.
The first Greatest Generation won its stripes by defending America and its allies.
This Greatest Generation has to win its stripes by making sure that the America
that was passed onto us, and that now claims for itself the leadership of a global
war against evil terrorists, is worthy of that task.
Mr. President, where do we enlist?